Thor to Crush Materials at 1 Million Atmospheres: 40 Times More Efficient Than the Z Machine

First Posted: Jan 06, 2016 01:31 PM EST

A new accelerator called Thor is expected to be 40 times more efficient than Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine, the world's largest and most powerful pulsed-power accelerator, when it comes to generating pressures to study materials under extreme conditions. The new accelerator could be huge when it comes to better understanding the physics of our world.

"Thor's magnetic field will reach about one million atmospheres, about the pressures at Earth's core," said David Reisman, lead theoretical physicist of the project, in a news release.

Although Thor is unable to match the Z machine's 5 million atmospheres, the completed Thor will be smaller-2,000 rather than 10,000 square feet-and will be considerably more efficient due to design improvements that use hundreds of small capacitors instead of Z's few large ones.

This latest change resembles the transformation of computer architecture in which an extremely powerful computer chip was replaced with many relatively simple chips working in unison, or to the evolution from several high-voltage vacuum tubes to computers powered by a much larger number of low-voltage solid-state switches.

A major benefit in efficiency is that while z's elephant-sized capacitors require large switches to short the machine's electrical pulse from a microsecond to 100 nanoseconds, with its attendant greater impact, the switches for Thor discharge current in a 100-nanosecond pulse immediately, eliminating energy losses inevitable when compressing a long pulse.

When Thor is completed, it should reach 1 million atmospheres of pressure. This could reveal a bit more about materials and also about physics in our world.

The findings are published in the journal Physical Review Special Topics-Accelerators and Beams.

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